As I headed to Chatfield State Park this morning, rain clouds billowed above the Front Range foothills. Beneath the waning sunshine, the golden leaves of cottonwoods glowed along the South Platte and Plum Creek corridors and clumps of yellow rabbitbrush adorned the grasslands. As usual, black-billed magpies foraged along the Park's roadways and small flocks of Canada geese, awaiting cohorts from the north, grazed on lawns near the outbuildings, beach and campgrounds.
Out on the reservoir, double-crested cormorants and ring-billed gulls dominated the scene, joined by smaller flocks of American white pelicans, western and pied-billed grebes and, near the inlets, mixed flocks of gadwall, coot, shovelers, common mergansers and mallards. A group of Townsend's solitaires, down from the mountains for the colder months, fed in junipers near the campground while northern flickers, black-capped chickadees and blue jays were the most conspicuous woodland species. Western meadowlarks, magpies and a few vesper sparrows were observed on the grasslands, which were patrolled by a pair of red-tailed hawks; the only other raptor sighting was of a sharp-shinned hawk that strafed the lakeside woods, hoping to snare a songbird.
Today's visit to Chatfield was far from my most productive birding experience at the Park, a refuge that many (including myself) consider to be one of the best birding locations in Metro Denver. Nevertheless, the fresh, cool air, relative solitude and beautiful autumn colors more than compensated for the "lackluster" birding.